A Trip to the Cinema
Toby found Clarissa and persuaded her that they should both visit Percy. Clarissa had been angry, and then upset, and finally simply quietly sad – which Toby thought was perhaps the worst – but she agreed to go with him and listen. Toby had his own questions for his mentor, and he wanted to know why Gerald had been taken to the real track when he clearly had not been ready, and whether Toby would see him again when he reached the real track himself. They found Percy, as ever, in the refreshment tent.
Percy was standing as they approached, reaching for his coat, obviously about to leave. Toby hurried over.
“Percy, hello, please can we talk?”
Percy stopped, and smiled a greeting.
“Hello Toby, Clarissa, I wasn’t expecting to see you today. How are you? Everything going okay?”
“No!” said Toby, pulling out a chair and sitting down. He gestured for Clarissa to join him and looked up at Percy. “We need to talk. It’s serious.”
“Our friend Gerald has gone,” added Clarissa. “And we miss him.” She flopped down into the chair next to Toby, all the energy gone out of her.
Percy nodded, but did not sit.
“Ah yes, I had heard about that.”
Toby wondered how Percy could possibly have heard so quickly, and was about to ask, but Percy was still speaking.
“There are many things which are hard to understand, lots to cope with while you train, so many distractions and difficult situations. . .” Percy was staring at the ceiling of the refreshment tent, and Toby wondered if he had forgotten what they had told him. Was his mentor senile? Percy gave himself a small shake, and looked back at Toby, as if it was an effort and he preferred to be lost in whatever thoughts were dancing round his head.
“Now then Toby, I do not have time, right at this very moment, to explain things properly. In fact, even if I did, I doubt if I could make you understand. No, what you and Clarissa should do I think. . .” he paused as if considering, then nodded his head, the grey hair bobbing up and down, his long turkey-like neck bending and folding. “Yes, what I believe you should do, right now, is go to the cinema in the special features area.
“You know where it is?”
Clarissa nodded, looking as confused as Toby felt.
“Yes, that is what you must do,” continued Percy. He reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a fat round watch on a long gold chain, squinting as he consulted the face. “Ah yes, as I thought, there is a film showing in just a few minutes, you have time, if you are quick.” He folded the watch back into his pocket and smiled at Toby, showing long yellow teeth. “You will feel better after watching the film, I guarantee it, and it will make it so much easier to explain things to you afterwards.
“Yes, you watch the film, I will meet you here afterwards. Then we will talk.”
Without waiting for an answer, Percy pushed his arms into the sleeves of his long brown coat, and waked from the tent, leaning heavily on his stick. Toby watched him leave, wondering how someone could possibly bear to move so slowly. He turned to Clarissa.
“Not quite what I was hoping for,” he said.
Clarissa was looking cross, her face folded into a frown, her lips pursed.
“I don’t think your mentor is much of a mentor at all,” she said. “I wonder why they gave you one.”
Toby sat up a little straighter, thinking that is sounded – although she hadn’t actually said it – that Clarissa thought Toby must be a very poor driver indeed in order to need a mentor who was clearly substandard.
“I don’t know,” he said, his voice tight. “Shall we go to this film? Do you know where the cinema is?”
Clarissa nodded. “Might as well,” she said sounding dismissive. “At least it’s in the special features area. I might decide to stay there afterwards, I’m beginning to wish that I’d never left.” She stood up, and without so much as glancing at Toby, led the way from the tent. He followed, a whole muddle of confusion and anger and defensiveness buzzing in his stomach, so that he was feeling rather like he might be sick. This was turning out to be a completely terrible day, and he wished he had stayed in bed.
The cinema was right in the centre of the special features area. Toby followed Clarissa through wide golden gates, along smooth roads, to a car park. The roads were lined with trees and flowers, and birds were flying overhead.
Parking was easy, as there were sensors to help guide the car into a space. When Toby opened his door, the air was filled with perfume, and mingled with the sound of birds there was music, and very far away, he could hear someone laughing. A man walked past, and he smiled at Toby, congratulating him on his parking.
“Well done, well done, you managed to park in a single manoeuvre,” he said as he walked away. It was, Toby thought, a complete opposite to everything he had experienced in the brown training area.
Clarissa joined him, her eyes hooded. Toby realised that she was there under protest, she did not seem to trust Percy but a loyalty to Toby was prompting her to stay with him. He was grateful, and squeezed her arm.
“Thanks for coming,” he whispered.
Clarissa nodded, but didn’t reply.
They walked together, along a pathway lined with flowers and trees, following flashing signs that directed them to the cinema. The cinema was set in a small hollow, a low round building that resembled a spaceship, a silvery domed roof and curved doors that opened as they approached. Inside, the air was cool and perfumed with cinnamon. Their footsteps were muffled by a thick green carpet, and they followed a line of drivers into the auditorium and took seats near the back. Some drivers were carrying tubs of popcorn, fat beakers of drink, long bars of chocolate. Toby considered asking Clarissa if she would like something to eat, but a glance at her stony face reminded him that she wasn’t here for pleasure, she was prepared to endure the experience, but nothing else.
The lights dimmed, and the curtains across the screen folded back. Toby was aware of Clarissa relaxing slightly, comfortable in the dark, and he felt her move slightly lower in her seat. He wondered if he might hold her hand, but worried she might snatch it away, so he folded his arms and stared at the screen.
The film began by showing the relationship develop between a mentor and a new driver. The new driver reminded Toby of himself, the way his car lurched when he started, the apparent difficulty he had turning corners and the impossibility of parking in a marked space. Toby chuckled, and beside him he heard Clarissa giggle too, which made him smile. The mentor in the film was younger than Percy, with long hair tied back in a pony-tail, and a tight tee-shirt. He clearly cared for his protégé, and offered several driving tips, which Toby took note of, thinking he might apply them in real life.
The film then changed pace. The protégé managed to get entangled in the car crusher when it came to dispose of a redundant training car, and was carried away. The action switched to the mentor, who was told what had happened and decided to rush to the rescue. Toby watched as the mentor ran to his car, the soundtrack to the film had changed, the music fast and tense. The mentor drove towards where the crusher went, his wheels spinning on corners, fingers tight on the steering wheel, expression anxious. The mentor reached down to a button on the dashboard, and Toby saw wings stretch out on either side of the car, there was a spurt of pink exhaust smoke, and the car rose into the air.
Toby watched the screen, entranced. The car was flying, over the road, through the clouds, then above them, the camera showing a clear blue sky and sun glinting on fluffy white mountains of cloud that appeared solid. The car continued to rise, higher and higher, until it was bursting through the earth’s atmosphere and spinning into space. Round and round the car spun, higher and higher. It orbited planets, avoided meteorites, chased shooting stars. The soundtrack had changed to something melodic, beautiful tunes filling the cinema, while on the screen the mentor floated through space. Toby was sitting up straight, his mouth open, wondering whether what he was seeing was possible, whether there were cars and drivers in real life capable of such feats.
The film changed again, the tense music returned, heavy beats and loud drums while the mentor located his protégé and extracted him from the jaws of the crusher. Softer music filled the room while the mentor led his protégé back to earth, showed him how to use the flying mechanism of his car to navigate space, slowed when he seemed in danger of crashing, led him home. The film ended with them both landing back on earth, the pale protégé thanking his mentor, the sun shining from behind a cloud, the wings folded back inside the cars.
Toby sat back in his seat and exhaled.
“Wow!” he said, turning to Clarissa, “Do you think any of that is even slightly possible? The flying bit I mean, the whizzing through space. Are there cars that can do that?”
Clarissa looked at him, and Toby saw her face had relaxed into a smile and she was sitting back in her chair, eyes shining.
“I hope so.”
They left the cinema, not speaking but walking close together, letting their eyes adjust to daylight as they left the domed building, feeling the fresh air cold on their cheeks. Walking back to their cars, Toby felt he wanted to say something, to ask whether Clarissa felt better, whether going to see the film had been a good idea. But he said nothing. He wanted her to confirm that Percy had given wise advice, needed to know that he could trust his mentor, learn from him. But he knew that if he asked Clarissa her opinion, she might not say what he wanted to hear, so it was safest not to ask. He wondered again about taking her hand, but that felt risky too, so Toby shoved his fists deep into his pockets and walked back to his car in silence.
Find out what Percy tells them tomorrow.